The Ducks held a (very) optional skate this morning at Honda Center as the club prepares for one last game before the All-Star break tonight against the Edmonton Oilers. With the team arriving in the early-morning hours at LAX after their game in Winnipeg, proper rest was paramount as they take on an Oilers club right on their heels in the Pacific Division.
Jonathan Bernier was the lone goaltender on the ice this morning, but head coach Randy Carlyle did not reveal the starter, as per his policy. Bernier was in net against the Jets on Monday night and could get the start again tonight to allow John Gibson an extra day (plus the break) to recover from an upper-body injury suffered in Saturday's game in Minnesota.
Carlyle, however, confirmed Jakob Silfverberg won't play tonight as he continues to recover from an upper-body injury that'll keep him out of the lineup for the third consecutive game. Silfverberg skated on his own yesterday and took part in the optional skate this morning.
"I feel pretty good, but hopefully I'll be ready to go after the break," said Silfverberg, who passed his neuro-psych tests this morning. "It's never a good thing to miss games, but right now it's a matter of not taking days off. Keep working. Hopefully I'll be even stronger when I get back. This break is coming at a good time."
Ryan Kesler relishes the opportunity to shut down the opposition's top center, and tonight he'll look to continue his dogged work against arguably the most electrifying player in the game - Connor McDavid. So far he's won the battle, as the 20-year-old team captain has just one point (assist) in five career games against the Ducks. That's a testament to Kesler and his linemates, who have stifled the league's current leading scorer since he broke into the NHL last season.
"If you want it more than the other guy, you do what you have to do to get it away from him," Carlyle said, on Kesler's tenacity. "His size, his skating ability and his ability to compete is as high as anybody's in the league. He wants the puck all the time and wants to be put in every situation you can give him. Sometimes you have to pull back the reins because you give him too much."
Barring a second-half meltdown, the Oilers are primed for their first playoff appearance in more than a decade. Ironically enough, the last time they made the postseason was in 2006, when they eliminated the then-Mighty Ducks in five games in the Western Conference Final before losing in Game 7 to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final.
"You always want to make an impression, and I'm sure they do," said Carlyle. "They look at this as an opportunity to test themselves. We have to play a complete game. They're looking at these next two games, us and the Sharks, as measuring sticks. We know we're going to get their best."
Edmonton is getting production throughout the lineup, and its best players are delivering. Entering tonight's game, the Oilers have seven players with 10-or-more goals, including former Ducks left wing Patrick Maroon, who leads the club with 18. Edmonton's defense, a glaring weakness in seasons past, has improved with the offseason acquisition of Adam Larsson and the October signing of veteran Kris Russell. Cam Talbot has been rock solid in net and enters tonight's game leading all NHL goaltenders in games played (43), minutes (2,588:43) and saves (1185), while his 24 wins place him fourth overall in the NHL.
"It's a big statement game in all aspects," said Joseph Cramarossa. "We want to go into the break feeling good and put them a little further behind us. Everyone knows the break is coming. It's a part of being a pro. You have to put it behind you. It's not like you're going to pretend it's not there."
Cramarossa adds, "We know after tonight we have three or four days off. Everyone wants to go out on a strong note. It'll be a big game and lead you through the break, so you want to finish strong."